The Indian Air Force is expected to resurrect its ‘Golden Arrows’ 17 Squadron on Tuesday, which will be the first unit to fly the multirole Rafale fighter jets. Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa will resurrect the 17 Squadron at Ambala Air Force Station as it prepares to receive the Rafale jets, sources said.
The ‘Golden Arrows’ 17 Squadron was commanded by Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa during the Kargil war in 1999.
The squadron, which operated from Bhatinda air base, was disbanded in 2016 after the IAF started gradual phasing out of Russian-origin MiG 21 jets.
The squadron was formed in 1951, and initially it flew de Havilland Vampire F Mk 52 fighters. India is expected to receive the first Rafale jet by the end of this month.
The IAF has already completed preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots, to welcome the fighter aircraft. The sources said the first squadron of the aircraft will be deployed at Ambala Air Force Station, considered one of the most strategically located bases of the IAF. The border with Pakistan is around 220 km from there.
The second squadron of the Rafale will be stationed at Hasimara base in West Bengal.
India had inked an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs. 58,000 crore.
A number of IAF teams have already visited France to help Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of Rafale, add India-specific enhancements on-board the fighter aircraft. The Rafale jets will come with various India-specific modifications, including Israeli helmet-mounted displays, radar warning receivers, low band jammers, 10-hour flight data recording, infra-red search and tracking systems, among others.
The Congress raised several questions about the deal, including on the rates of the aircraft, and alleged wrongdoing, but the government has rejected the charges.
The IAF spent Rs. 400 crore to develop infrastructure like shelters, hangers and maintenance facilities at the two bases to keep the Rafale jets.
In July 2017, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa, during his visit to France, flew a Rafale jet at the Saint-Dizier airbase to gain first-hand experience of the aircraft. According to the deal, the delivery of the jets was to be completed in 67 months from the date the contract was inked.